Can vitamin D deficiency make your period worse?
Vitamin D deficiency is very common in the UK and is thought to affect women more than it does men. As around 90% of our vitamin D requirement is produced when we are exposed to sunlight and only around 10% comes from food, it’s no surprise that many of us may be lacking.
As of 2016, the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) recommends that everyone over the age of 1 year should have 10μg (400IU) of vitamin D daily. Without this, we may be at risk of suffering from a range of unwanted symptoms. Interestingly, symptoms of vitamin D deficiency can be very similar to those associated with your monthly period.
Let's take a look at how low levels of vitamin D can be involved in symptoms such as low mood, menstrual cramps, fatigue and a weakened immune system.
While fluctuating hormone levels can be responsible for low mood during your period, a lack of vitamin D could be making matters worse as low vitamin D levels have been linked to increased risk of suffering from depression.1
Although there is still a lot of ongoing research into how exactly vitamin D affects our mood, we do know that it is a pro-hormone and that we have vitamin D receptors all over our body, including in the area of our brain which is associated with depression. Alongside supporting mood, vitamin D is involved in brain health and supporting the transmission of nerve signals. So, it seems vitamin D has a lot to answer for when it comes to the brain!
Menstrual cramps and back pain
You may be aware that hormone-like chemicals called prostaglandins, produced during your period, initiate menstrual cramps in your abdomen, as well as potentially adding back pain into the mix. Now, vitamin D is known to reduce the expression of inflammatory compounds which means it can regulate the production of prostaglandins and reduce period pains.2
However, if our vitamin D levels are low, we may be less efficient at regulating these prostaglandins and may be more likely to experience painful periods.
What's more, as we know, there are vitamin D receptors all over our body – and that includes our muscles. For this reason, vitamin D is thought to increase pain response and possibly make us even more sensitive to pain.
Monthly bouts of fatigue can be difficult to cope with, especially if you’re already suffering from painful cramps, low mood and other equally difficult symptoms. While hormones, dehydration and lack of sleep can all contribute to period fatigue, so too can nutrient deficiencies, including low levels of vitamin D.
Impaired immune system
This may be a slightly less common period symptom, but you might be familiar with the term ‘period cold’. Research has shown that you may be more susceptible to colds and flu due to a reduction in antibodies just before your period,3 while PMS symptoms such as congestion and headaches can mimic the signs of a flu.
At the same time, low levels of vitamin D can also leave you at a higher risk of developing colds and flu as it is required to help activate T-cells, responsible for hunting down viruses and pathogens.4 So, you may be more at risk of getting sick often or suffering from repeated infections if you’re low in vitamin D.
Put all of these symptoms together, and you're in for quite an uncomfortable period! So, how can you avoid becoming low in vitamin D?
Getting vitamin D from the sun
Of course, spending time in the sunshine is the number one way of increasing our vitamin D levels. However, there are several factors which influence how much vitamin D we produce in response to sunlight:
- Time of year – during the winter months (October to April) in the UK, it is more difficult for us to manufacture vitamin D from sunlight
- Time of day – when the sun is higher in the sky (approximately 11am-2pm), we are better able to manufacture vitamin D
- How much skin is exposed – covering up with clothing and sunscreen can inhibit our ability to manufacture vitamin D.
How else can I get enough vitamin D?
As it can be difficult for us to get enough vitamin D from the sun here in the UK, there are some other ways you can increase your vitamin D levels safely.
- Supplements – the NHS recommends that everyone should take a vitamin D supplement during the winter months. Balance Mineral Drink is a sensibly-dosed source of vitamin D and includes a range of other important nutrients that can help to boost energy.
- Diet – certain foods contain good levels of vitamin D, including oily fish and egg yolks. Read my blog on which foods are high in vitamin D here for a more extensive list.